Saturday, December 4, 2010

"Showcase" at Gallery on Sturt

The Gallery on Sturt at 421 Sturt St, Ballarat, Victoria has an exhibition called "Showcase", for artists associated with the gallery. I have one piece in the show, a digital print titled Darwinian Field 1. My association with the gallery is that they also have a fine art printing service, and Andrew Tweedie there made the prints for my exhibition in Arthur Gallery earlier in 2010.

The exhibition runs throughout December.
Opening hours: Monday - Friday 9am - 5:30pm, Saturday 10am - 4pm.

For more information see

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Transdisciplinary imaging

(Long post)

At the weekend I attended a two-day conference in Sydney, the First International Conference on Transdisciplinary Imaging at the Intersections between Art, Science and Culture.  The conference title was "New Imaging: Transdisciplinary strategies for art beyond the new media".  The conference chairs were Su Baker (Victorian College of the Arts) and Paul Thomas (College of Fine Arts, University of NSW).  The conference was held at Artspace in Wolloomooloo with support from a number of universities.

There were over twenty presentations.  The "international" part of the title was justified in that several of the presenters, including all three keynote speakers, were from overseas.  Altogether it seemed to be a fairly high-powered group, and I felt a little out of my depth (though I wasn't presenting).  I am relatively new to this sort of discussion, so in my comments I may well have missed the point or misunderstood things.

All the presenters were either artists or people somewhere along the spectrum art historian, art theorist, cultural theorist, and the artists tended to be theorists as well.  I had the impression that there are certain books and articles everybody there had read; the conference was part of a specific discourse despite its wide-ranging brief.  Although science was mentioned in the conference title, no scientists presented as such, though Oron Catts (of SymbioticA in Perth) must be part-scientist, and a couple of the other artists have collaborated closely with scientists.

Rather than summarising the entire conference I mention the three keynote addresses and then try to indicate some common themes.

The opening presentation "Hyperskindexicality" was by Jens Hauser, an artist, writer and curator based in Paris; he gave a wide-ranging discussion of biological art, that is, art that uses living materials such as bacteria, skin cells, or genetically modified organisms.  Jens broached a number of themes that recurred throughout the conference, including "indexicality" (after C.S. Peirce) and notions of representation, the nature of scientific visualisation, and the relation of "new media" to older media.

The second keynote presentation was by Roy Ascott from Plymouth University in England; Roy was physically at another conference in Norway and presented (before breakfast his time) via Skype and PowerPoint slides under the title "The Syncretic Dialogues".  Roy is a visionary pioneer of cybernetic art, telematic art and art around the idea of complex systems; he has extended this to "technoetic arts", to bring in things like telekinesis, shamanic healing and a trans-human "field of consciousness".  I felt that most of the audience could not follow Roy down the New Age path.  Roy indicated five artists of the modern era as significant: Paul Cézanne, Marcel Duchamp, John Cage, Jackson Pollock, and the much less well-known Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa, who created a number of distinct personas, or "heteronyms", each of which is almost an independent author with a distinct writing style and set of concerns.  Roy concluded "the most urgent eco-necessity is the re-design of ourselves".

The final keynote presentation was by Anne Ring Petersen from Denmark, on "The transdisciplinary potential of remediated painting".   Anne discussed three artists who in her view are extending painting into new areas: Thorbjørn Lausten (Denmark), Katharina Grosse (Germany) and David Batchelor (England).  In the works shown, only one of these artists (
Grosse) actually uses paint: Batchelor makes sculptural constructions out of lightboxes or brightly coloured plastic objects and Lausten makes abstracted modernist visualisations of scientific data on computer displays.  Grosse uses paint on a large scale, covering long corridors or large spaces with bright swirls, which extend over furniture or other things in the space. The paper brought to the fore the notion of "discipline" and the extent to which the use of specific materials should determine it.

I will only discuss one presentation on a specific artwork, that by Petra Gemeinboeck and Rob Saunders (Sydney) on their extraordinary "Zwischenräume".  This consisted of two machines or robots (not humaniform), each mounted behind a plasterboard wall.  Each was equipped with a movable eye (a camera surrounded by LED lights) and a hammer.  The robots could move around the wall, and when they got bored they could smash holes in it, to make what they were seeing more interesting for them.  The noises of the hammering also served as a communication system between the two robots.  This piece builds on earlier work by Rob on "curious agents" (computer software agents that exchanged virtual artworks), but has brought the agents out into the world and equipped them with the ability to act on it.

I will now try to identify some of the themes running through the conference.

Firstly, there was general agreement that the term "new media" is no longer appropriate, though it wasn't clear what term or terms to replace it with.  The notion of "remediation" (as in the book by Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin), where a newer medium always takes over ideas and conventions from earlier media, was much in evidence; a new medium is never completely new, at least in aesthetics and content.  In the context of "remediation" the terms "modulation" and "transduction" were tossed around quite a bit, but, as far as I heard, without any clear definitions.

The other part of the conference title concerned "transdisciplinarity".  There were two uses of the word "discipline", firstly referring to an artistic discipline such as painting (the paradigmatic artistic discipline), and secondly referring to an academic discipline.  Roy Ascott indicated that a combination of disciplines should produce something new, should transcend the originating disciplines.  I don't think any conclusion was reached about transdisciplinarity, but a related notion of "expanded" art forms came up frequently; thus
Anne Ring Petersen used the phrase "expanded painting" in her talk.  The "expanded" works move away from the traditional materials of a specific artistic discipline, but still carry concerns of that discipline with them.  In a way this is the the other face of "new media": at least in the hype, the new media were claimed to abandon or repudiate the old media (the idea debunked by Bolter and Grusin), whereas the works of an "expanded" discipline are still considered to belong to the originating discipline.

A third fairly large and unresolved theme revolved around scientific visualisation and related questions of representation.  Jens Hauser opened this up with a discussion of so-called "DNA fingerprinting", which is a technique that takes DNA, cuts it up by so-called restriction enzymes, and spreads the results out in a two-dimensional pattern on a gel.  The process is quite complicated and indirect, so the name "fingerprinting" is questionable.  Jens introduced the work of the American artist Paul Vanouse, who has used the "fingerprinting" technique to produce patterns on the gel that form things like the copyright sign.

It is clear that in many cases scientific visualisation is a partial and indirect representation of a complex situation; I don't think scientists would disagree with this statement.  With one or two of the conference presentations I wasn't clear if scepticism about such visualisations was aimed at the scientific use of them, or at the popular and journalistic reduction implying that such visualisation is somehow akin to direct perception.   I would have liked to have heard from scientists as to how they use visualisations, especially when they are very indirect: are visualisations just more or less informal guides as to where a detailed analysis should be carried out, or can a visualisation function in itself as scientific evidence?  What role does the more or less unconscious and unanalysed operation of the pattern-matching abilities of our visual system play in science?  Lucia Ayala (Germany), an art historian who has been collaborating with an astrophysicist, came fairly close to this question but did not actually discuss it in her presentation.

An area that only came up in a minor way was the implications of machine vision.  Linda Matthews and Gavin Perin described a project which, as I understood it, was to provide a building with a cladding so that it would show up as an un-building-like image on a webcam that streams images of Circular Quay to tourism websites.  Kathy Cleland discussed so-called "augmented reality", where symbolic data is overlaid on a view of the real world; an example is the mobile phone application Google Goggles.  Again the hype has got ahead of the reality: if the overlaid data comes from a commercial provider like Google, the data will have a commercial bias.  In this context, someone said something along the lines that "machine vision is uninterpreted", but surely this is not true.  My small digital camera recognises faces and adjusts the focus accordingly, and the robots of
Petra Gemeinboeck and Rob Saunders are even assigning value to what they see.  Petra described the robots as "voyeuristic": they are seeing for their own pleasure.

Another area that also only came up in a minor way in the conference was the "executable" aspect of new media: computer programs do things in a way that only has very tenuous precedents in art (and that is not to be confused with notions of "performativity").  Again the work of
Petra Gemeinboeck and Rob Saunders shows this executable aspect in a striking way.  Mitchell Whitelaw brought up the lack of attention to the executable aspect of new media in the conference, and was fairly answered by Paul Thomas to the effect that this aspect was discussed in the re:live conference on media art history held in Melbourne in 2009, of which Paul was one of the organisers.  Behind this, though, was the feeling expressed by some conference participants that there is a divide or "incommensurability" between discussions of new media art and mainstream contemporary art.  Not everyone agreed with this, but I have a sense of such a divide; maybe it would be a true transdisciplinary project to bridge it.

Although I have mentioned some things that were not much discussed at the conference, it is not clear where they would have fitted in, as we already had two full and very interesting days.  There are many things I haven't mentioned, from Edward Colless's discussion of miraculous images such as the face of Jesus on the Veil of Veronica, through to Mitchell Whitelaw's identification of a trend away from the bland homogeneity of computer and TV screens to site-specific, often home-made and low-resolution, variations on the theme of an array of pixels.  And Daniel Mafe's artwork, which moves seamlessly from abstract painting to visually similar material created procedurally as abstract animations.  And Ian Gwilt's discussion of "compumorphic" art, which draws on computer-inspired forms in the way that biomorphic art draws on natural forms.  And much more!  Many thanks to Su and Paul and all the other people involved!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Urban Codemakers

I have a bit part in Troy Innocent's Melbourne Laneways Commission for 2010.

Photo by Troy Innocent. On the left: Yun Tae Nam. On the right: Gordon Monro

Find the project on the net at Register for fieldwork now!

There is also a Facebook page under the name Urban Codemakers and a video on YouTube.

Monday, June 28, 2010

"Tempus Fugit" group exhibition

I have a piece in the "Tempus Fugit" group exhibition at Space 22 in Ballarat.

Where: Space 22, 22 Main Road, Ballarat.
Opening: Saturday July 3rd, 3-5pm.
Exhibition dates: July 22 to August 8, 2010.
Gallery hours: Thu-Sun 12 noon - 5pm.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The 2010 Biennale of Sydney

(Long post)

Last week I paid a short visit to Sydney to see the large international art festival, the 2010 Biennale of Sydney, which opened in May and runs until 1st August. The director is British curator David Elliott. The two main locations for the Biennale were the Museum of Contemporary Art near Circular Quay and Cockatoo Island in the middle of Sydney Harbour.  Free ferries were provided from Circular Quay to the island.  There were smaller numbers of works in the Sydney Botanic Gardens, at the Opera House, at the Art Gallery of NSW, at Pier 2/3 in Walsh Bay and at Artspace in Woolloomoo.  I visited all the venues except Pier 2/3, but I certainly couldn't engage with every work.  Most of the performances associated with the Biennale took place in its opening week, so I missed them.

The Biennale's theme was "The Beauty of Distance: Songs of Survival in a Precarious Age", but as usual the theme didn't mean very much.  My first impression was that the Biennale should have been called "The Post-Colonial Art Show", as a large number of works referred in some way to the aftermath of colonisation, from New Zealand artist Brett Graham's stealth bomber decorated with Maori carvings to Canadian Kent Monkman's fanciful panoramas introducing the female (and scantily clad)  "Miss Chief Eagle Testickle" into the mythologised history of the American West. 

Of course one of the things that both a colonial and a post-colonial emphasis do is to highlight questions of ethnic identity.  I should note that Brett Graham is identified as being from the Ngati Koroki sub-tribe of Tainui, and that Kent Monkman has Cree ancestry.

Added to the specifically post-colonial works were another group of works, mostly by Asian artists, relating to cultural disruption that is not directly of Western colonial origin, including the Tibetan/American artist Gonkar Gyatso's response to Tibet's situation within China, and Japanese artist Yamaguchi Akira's panels showing the construction of the modern Shiba Tower in traditional Japanese isometric style, complete with isometric smog.  Completing the non-Western theme were some groups of works by Indigenous artists pursuing their own cultural concerns, including an impressive group of funeral poles by Yolngu artists from Arnhem Land and bark-cloth works from Dapeni Jonevari (Mokokari) and Mala Nari (Matosi), two women from, respectively, the Emate and Ömie groups in Papua New Guinea. 

There were quite a few works that didn't fit into the groups that I have listed, such as American artist Bill Viola's video Incarnation, one of his series where people walk through a wall of water, and quite compelling.  Perhaps the best-known artist represented in the Biennale was the French/American sculptor Louise Bourgeois, represented by several striking sculptures, including one of her "cell" constructions.  Bourgeois recently died at the age of 98 after a distinguished career.

It is clear from David Elliott's history as a curator that he is interested in cultural disruption and power relationships between cultures, so the emphasis of the Biennale is not surprising.  What did surprise me was the small number of works relating to climate change, rising sea levels, loss of bio-diversity and the like, surely very pressing contemporary concerns, and appropriate to "survival in a precarious age".  There were a few works on this theme, such as Australian Janet Laurence's "hospital for sick plants" in the Botanic Gardens.  And French/German/North African artist Kader Attia's installation Kasbah, a construction representing the roofs of a shanty-town, certainly refers to over-population and over-crowded cities.

Cockatoo Island is a remarkable location, packed with buildings reflecting its history first as a prison and then as an important naval dockyard  and ship-building yard.  There are large cranes and other machines and huge sheds, as well as tunnels through the sandstone; the environment is in danger of upstaging the art works.  This didn't apply to the spectacular installation by Chinese/American artist Cai Guo-Qiang, consisting of nine white motorcars (real ones), seven of them suspended in the air and with rods bearing flashing lights protruding from them.  The whole thing looks like, and is intended to look like, a sequence of stills from a movie of an exploding car.  Another installation that fitted well into its space was the full-scale plywood mock-up of the Hubble Space Telescope by Australian artist Peter Hennessy.  A third installation at Cockatoo Island that fitted its location well, and one that I really liked, was the photographs of electrical discharges by Japanese/American artist Hiroshi Sugimoto.  These images, which were both delicate and powerful, were placed in the old Power House, where electric current from the mainland was transformed to meet the requirements of the island; a lot of the electrical apparatus remains. 

Of the small number of works relating art and science, Sugimoto's was my favourite, though the large sculpture Neuron outside the Musem of Contemporary Art by American Roxy Paine came a close second.  The installation Molecular in the old guardhouse on Cockatoo island by Romanian/American artist Serge Spitzer was a disappointment to me.  It consisted of a large number of small grey balls spread about on the floor (and they weren't grouped into molecules).  Unfortunately I missed Brodie Ellis's work based on a solar eclipse.

The occurrence in the Biennale of both Australian Aboriginal art and art relating to science led me to think about the sorts of knowledge needed to appreciate different kinds of art.  I feel at a loss with Aboriginal art because I do not know the associated stories, images and tracts of country, and so I cannot tell how the stories and so forth are being treated in the works; I can only admire the works as abstract aesthetic objects.  Since I have a scientific background I feel that I can make some judgement on how scientific ideas are treated in a work of art.

It appears that at some stage there was an intent to structure at least part of the Bienniale around the work of the American film-maker, animator and influential collector of various forms of folk and indigenous music, Harry Smith; the Biennale subtitle "Songs of Survival" suggests this.  In the event there were only a few pieces that really related to Smith's work.  There was a long and rather surreal animation by Smith himself at Artspace, and a project by Eileen Simpson and Ben White to make available out-of-copyright recordings of versions of the folk songs collected by Smith.  The work using folksongs by Warren Fahey and Mic Gruchy at Cockatoo Island is also linked to Smith's work.

A bigger theme, at least as far as catalogue essays were concerned, was the supposed final end of the European Enlightenment project, linked with the purportedly "equal playing field of contemporary art, where no culture can assume superiority over any other" (from Elliott's introductory essay).  Sydney art critic John McDonald noted that a disproportionate number of the non-Indigenous local artists in the Biennale are or have been represented by the Roslyn Oxley9 gallery in Sydney, which suggests a certain hierarchy in Elliott's view of the local art scene.  More fundamentally, although there may not be a hierarchy of cultures in the Biennale, there is a hierarchy of taste: realism (except perhaps in video) is out; magical surrealism is in, as is a certain sort of political commentary acceptable to Western art critics.  This is no surprise: the Sydney Biennale is just following the norm for such events in representing a globalised contemporary elite Western taste, as described by Julian Stallabrass in his book Art Incorporated (2004).

I didn't like the graphic design created for the Biennale by British designer Jonathan Barnbrook: I found it cluttered, distracting, difficult to read (in this respect the antithesis of good design) and full of what appeared to be irrelevant graphics from old mathematical and scientific sources.  To defend Barnbrook on the last point: some of these graphics have a connection with the animation work of Harry Smith mentioned above, and perhaps when Barnbrook received his brief Smith's work was expected to play a bigger role.

Conclusions?  A lot of interesting things to see, certainly.  A curator ought to be allowed to have a particular viewpoint, so I don't know if the rather small representation of works about the environment represents a widespread view among international curators or simply Elliott's own interest or lack thereof.  And my favourite work amongst those I saw?  Probably the painting Black Light by the Iranian/English artist Shirazeh Houshiary, with minute and very detailed calligraphy, and part of a striking triptych.  Though I also very much liked the work of Hiroshi Sugimoto mentioned above, and I had a soft spot for the painting Big Raven by American artist Fred Tomaselli. And then I could add one of Gonkar Gyatso's hyper-collages, or Araya Rasdjarmrearnsook's videos about the reactions of Thai villagers to Western art...  So, yes, lots of interesting things to see, and it is unreasonable to expect more than that in such a big and sprawling show.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

"AUSthetic" in Federation Square

I have a tiny part of the "AUSthetic" video screening program in Federation Square, Melbourne, 3-10 June 2010. My piece Triangular Vibrations was used as part of a mashup by VJ Sustenance made for ANAT in 2009, and this mashup in turn is being shown on the big screen at Fed Square, some time between 10pm and midnight. There is some info here.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

New exhibition "Difference Engine" in Ballarat

I have an exhibition in Ballarat in May, showing work under the title "Difference Engine". The works consist of small patterns that have been evolved in the computer to be different from one another. They are mostly digital prints, but the computer program that carries out the evolutionary process will be there as well.
  • Venue: Arthur Gallery, 35 Mair St, Ballarat (a very short walk from Ballarat station)
  • Exhibition dates: 6th May to 29th May 2010
  • Opening: Saturday 8th May, 5pm - 7pm
  • Gallery hours: Thursday to Saturday 10am - 3pm or by appointment
Also I will be giving an artist talk at Arthur Gallery at 2pm on Saturday 29th May.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Design After Nature - again

The recent exhibition "Design After Nature" by the Centre for Electronic Media Art at Monash University, Melbourne is re-appearing at the Frankston Arts Centre (Melbourne).
  • Venue: Frankston Arts Centre, 37 Davey St, Frankston (a short walk from Frankston station)
  • Exhibition dates: 23rd Feb to 14th March 2010
  • Gallery hours: Monday to Saturday 9am-5pm, Sunday 12-4pm
There is a map here.
The works are described as "experimental ecosystems", generally computer-based in some way. It is shaping up to be a very interesting exhibition.
People involved: Oliver Bown, Joel Collins, Aland Dorin, Alice Eldridge, Mark Guglielmetti, Indae Hwang, Troy Innocent, Taras Kowaliw, Jon McCormack, Gordon Monro, Yun Tae Nam, Ben Porter, Mitchell Whitelaw.
All welcome!